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Virgin founder’s $3 billion climate pledge heralds new era in philanthropy

Richard Branson, founder and chair of the British conglomerate Virgin Group, has racked up more than his share of high-profile high jinks over the years. Among them, signing the notorious Sex Pistols to his young record label, dangling nearly nude over Times Square, and botching numerous transoceanic hot-air balloon expeditions, necessitating rescue by helicopter. But the most audacious move of all may have been his declaration last week that he'll dedicate $3 billion to helping solve the climate crisis. The largest-ever private sum directed to the cause, Branson's pledge accounted for more than a third of the total $7.3 billion …

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Can’t See the Forest for the Bling

Northern forests worth up to $250 billion a year, research says You thought they were just standing there, but forests in Russia, Canada, and other northern nations provide services worth up to $250 billion a year, say Canadian researchers. Water filtration, erosion control, habitat provision, greenhouse-gas absorption, and tourist attraction are highly lucrative pursuits that should be valued by governments, says lead researcher Mark Anielski. The ecological economist calculates that the benefits provided by forests in Canada -- home to one-quarter of the world's forests -- would amount to about $83 billion, roughly 9 percent of the nation's annual gross …

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Sustainability visionaries see room for hope in our worry-filled world

Who's afraid of the big, bad future? Al Gore, clearly -- and pretty much anyone who has seen An Inconvenient Truth. While Gore's dissenters may argue that he cries wolf too often, no one who knows and understands the statistics used in the film can doubt that the Big Bad Wolf of climate change is at the door. The question is whether our economies are best built of straw, sticks, or bricks. He's getting closer ... Photo: iStockphoto These days there can be few Grist-folk who haven't seen -- or at least heard of -- the YouTube short Al Gore's …

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Box Populi

Wal-Mart will push suppliers to reduce packaging by 5 percent In its latest effort to woo enviros (and, of course, save some dough), Wal-Mart has unveiled a five-year plan that it believes will reduce packaging on the products it sells by 5 percent. Speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting on Friday, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott announced that his company will push its 60,000 suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging they use, and starting in 2008, it will grade the suppliers on their success. The plan is expected to save Wal-Mart $3.4 billion, as smaller packages are cheaper to …

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Biz Bang

Big business increasingly acting to fight climate change More and more big companies are waking up and smelling the climate change, recognizing that it could have a notable impact on their bottom lines, according to the fourth annual survey by the Carbon Disclosure Project. The CDP, backed by large institutional investors, got responses from 360 of the Financial Times 500 major companies; 87 percent said climate change represented "commercial risks and/or opportunities," but only 48 percent had formal programs for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. A handful of firms are leading the way by offsetting their emissions in order to become carbon-neutral, …

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Alisa Gravitz, director of Co-op America, answers questions

Alisa Gravitz. What work do you do? I have the great pleasure of serving as Co-op America's executive director. What does your organization do? Co-op America uses the power of the marketplace to solve social and environmental problems. Our name itself stands for the idea of people in their economic roles (as consumers, workers, investors, and business leaders) cooperating to create a better world. Co-op America focuses on economic and business strategies because, in this industrial age, the economic sector dominates public and private life. Too often, business as usual harms people, communities, and the environment. But it doesn't have …

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Google Foundation to make plug-in hybrids

And possibly sell them

My, my. Google searches, finds cause: According to people briefed on the program, the organization, called Google.org, plans to develop an ultra-fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid car engine that runs on ethanol, electricity and gasoline. They have about $1 billion in seed money. This is an extraordinary development.

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How Mexico’s iconic flatbread went industrial and lost its flavor

In a spectacle similar to the one conjured up by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, a Mexican judiciary panel handed the nation's presidency to Felipe Calderón last week. Even The New York Times, in its circumspect way, acknowledged that the new president-elect's narrow victory over leftist rival Andrés Manuel López Obrador involved seemingly illegal activity by Calderón's governmental and big-business supporters. Classic Mexican cuisine is falling victim to crony-inflected neoliberalism. Photo: iStockphoto Calderón represents Mexico's conservative National Action Party (PAN), which scuttled more than 70 years of one-party rule by defeating the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the 2000 …

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Pigs, but not smart ones

Congress grills BP execs on Alaska spills

BP executives were under fire in Washington, D.C., this week for failing to prevent two oil leaks that occurred earlier this year in the largest oil field in the country. The company willfully ignored pipeline corrosion and harassed employees who voiced concern, Congressional representatives say. The first leak occurred last March, spilling 5,000 barrels of oil onto the Prudhoe Bay's western tundra. The second, in early August, forced the closure of half the oil field after further testing found significant corrosion in pipelines. The nearly five hours of questioning on Thursday focused largely on BP's failure to monitor the pipelines …

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Starbucks: only green on their logo?

Coffee giant may be involved in deforestation in Indonesia

For being a big-ass chain, Starbucks Coffee at least has a reputation as a socially responsible big-ass chain. They've partnered with Conservation International for their Conservation Coffee program, "to encourage environmentally sound coffee-growing practices and to improve farmer livelihoods" in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, "and other Conservation Coffee™ sites around the world" that apparently don't warrant mentioning. They recycle "at 1,544 of our stores, of which 61 percent have a recycling program." (Side note: I'm spoiled here in hippie Seattle, but it's depressing that there are Starbucks stores "located in communities where commercial recycling facilities are not available.") They've got a …